Are contract marriages dying in Puncak?

Little Arabia: Stores on Jl. Raya Puncak, one of the main roads in the resort city of Puncak, put up signs in Arabic to attract tourists from the Middle East, who flock to the area all year round. According to locals, many tourists have engaged in contract marriages with locals, who have enjoyed windfall profits from the arrangements.The laughter of two attractive young women in party dresses could be heard across the hotel parking lot in the Puncak resort area in Bogor, West Java.

The pair joined another woman waiting in a Suzuki minivan and disappeared into the night.

They are prostitutes like me. They are heading to villas where tourists from the Middle East stay, a woman who asked to be identified as N., 24, told The Jakarta Post. The woman in the front seat was their pimp.

Similar vehicles go from villa to villa in Puncak throughout the night, transporting prostitutes in search of customers. Tourists pay Rp 400,000 (US$45) per hour for the women’s services, or Rp 1.2 million for the
entire evening.

For decades, Puncak has been a magnet for foreign tourists, particularly from the Middle East, due to its fresh air, cool weather and mountain views.

One village, Warung Kaleng, has even been dubbed “kampung Arab”, due to its large number of Middle Eastern tourists.

Stores in the village sport signs in both Indonesian and Arabic. Many cater to Middle Eastern clientele, offering items such as water pipes, flavored tobacco, olive oil and pita bread.

The area has also been infamous as a hub for so-called “contract marriages” between foreign tourists and local women.

However, local residents said that the practice has been declining in recent years due to frequent raids led by the police and public order officers and village authorities.

Rusli Doelbari, head of South Tugu village in Cisarua district, said that the crackdown, which began in 2007, was aimed at restoring the village’s reputation.

Numerous news reports labeled this village a den of debauchery, saying it was offering young women to foreign tourists , when in fact the girls did not actually come from here, Rusli said.

The prostitutes in Puncak mostly came from nearby towns in West Java, such as Sukabumi, Cianjur, Indramayu, Kadipaten, he said. Some came from big cities, including Jakarta and Bandung.

It’s just because they are having their so-called honeymoons here with their newlywed Mideast husbands that this place got a bad image, Rusli said.

All the girls who are natives of Cisarua are well-behaved, and would not offer themselves to tourists just for money, he added.

N., however, said that she was born in the area and lived there all her life, although her mother came from Cianjur.

A local security guard who declined to be named said things had been looking up over the past few years.

The situation had been out of control before the crackdown, he said.

Tourists often had parties with loud music, fireworks and women dancing at the villas. These garden parties could go on from eight at night until three or four in the morning, he said.

Contract marriages were also rampant then, with prices for brides reaching Rp 50 million, split between the bride, her middleman and her pimp, although prices have dropped to Rp 3 million following the increased scrutiny.

The women found ways around Islamic marriage rituals.

Taxi and motorbike taxi drivers often served as witnesses or pretended to be members of a prospective bride’s family, N. said. Those foreigners couldn’t possibly tell the difference, whereas the cleric was usually an off-duty marriage registrar from the local office of the Religious Affairs Ministry. Once the deal was done, the marriage would last for a week.

N. described three types of police raids. First were joint operations, directed at all types of prostitution.

If you are caught in this type of operation, there’s nothing you can do but pray. You can’t pay them to release you,N. said.

The second type is the “Arab operation”, which only targets foreign tourists who keep local prostitutes in their villas. If the tourists want the officers to release the women, they have to pay Rp 3 million per girl.

The third and most common type of raid was the payable operation, N. said, which meant you could bribe the arresting officers to let you go.

They ask for Rp 3 million, with the [pimp] and the girl splitting the costs.

Rusli said foreign tourists contributed to local economic growth, despite contract marriages.

Many motorbike taxi drivers say that, while local tourists will only pay Rp 5,000 to Rp 10,000, foreign tourists will give them Rp 50,000 to Rp 100,000, he said.

Local traders, grocery store owners, housemaids, and tour guides also benefited from tourists.

I’m not saying that tourists shouldn’t be allowed to come here. I urge them all to come and bring their families and friends, Rusli said.

However, they have to respect local customs and traditions while they’re here.

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